Hilda Gore: I’m your host Hilda Labrada Gore. And today our guest is the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Sally Fallon Morell. Sally’s book Nourishing Traditions came out in 1996 and has been a driving force behind today’s real food movement. In the book and in today’s interview, Sally emphasizes the importance of eating a nutrient-dense diet as traditional cultures have done for millennia. It’s a way of eating that nourishes, satisfies, and maximizes your health.
I want to take you back to before the Weston A. Price Foundation was even set up, back to when you lived in France. I want to hear a little bit about your health story and how you stumbled across these Weston Price findings.
Sally Fallon Morell: I’ll go back even farther to my childhood, because both my parents were very healthy. They had naturally straight teeth, perfect eyesight and no health problems. I remember my father at the dinner table saying, “I just don’t understand why your mom and I have straight teeth and perfect eyesight and all you kids need braces and glasses.” So he planted that seed of inquiry in me, just asking that question. And I did have a lot of health problems. Not only did I need braces and a very strong prescription for glasses, I also had a lot of allergies, fatigue and challenges in dealing with stress. So I was like that first generation of Pottenger’s cats, While we ate real food in our family—my mother always used butter—we also ate a lot of sugar. I wasn’t getting cod liver oil and we didn’t eat liver or raw milk.
Fast forward to college. I went to France to do a year abroad and while there I discovered a food I’d never tasted before: pâté, goose liver pâté. When I had my first bite of this food my body said, “This is what you’ve been looking for.” I felt a sigh of relief and couldn’t eat enough pâté. In fact, I made a pig of myself, eating it every day. I was a gourmand. It made me feel better, gave me energy; I got a lot more done and had less fatigue. And I’m sure that’s the reason my first child was so healthy because I had built up my stores of vitamins A, D and K. There is no food that is a better source of A, D and K than goose liver pâté. And then after she was born I discovered Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price. It is one of those life-changing books. I continued to eat this way—with lots of butter, cream, eggs and pâté—and cook this way as well. I’ve always loved to cook, especially in the French style, making broth, sauces and soups. I continued like this and my three other children, who were boys, were all very healthy as well.
HG: It sounds like you had a Julia Child experience.
SFM: Oh yes, Julia Child was my idol and I learned to cook from her books. Anyway, after my youngest child went to kindergarten and I had more time, I got the idea of doing a book that would put Dr. Price’s findings into practical form. Also, this is when we started to hear a very strident message for low fat, no butter, no cream, no eggs, especially for children. I knew in my heart that was wrong. Fortunately when I was working on my book, I met Mary Enig and we started to collaborate. I call her my fat guru. Mary Enig was a PhD in nutrition with an emphasis on lipids, and she was the wonderful brave person who challenged the safety of trans fats. She insisted we should not be using them; we need animal fats, she said, and there’s nothing wrong with saturated fat, it’s good for us. So we made quite a team. She was the scientist with a tremendous conviction that we were going in the wrong direction, and I was able to give her a voice through our writings. After we finished the book, then we thought we would need to provide ongoing information for people, and that’s when we set up the Weston A. Price Foundation.
HG: Tell us the name of the book.
SFM: Nourishing Traditions was our book. It came out in 1996 and then another edition in 1999. It’s sold beyond my wildest expectations and influenced a lot of people.
HG: It includes some science and some recipes —a little bit of everything, even stories.
SFM: Recipes, stories. There’s a fairly lengthy introduction, about sixty pages that talks especially about fats and oils, followed by over five hundred recipes. On every recipe page, there is a sidebar with a little bit of information about fat, traditional diets, Dr. Price or about the particular food that’s in the recipe.
HG: Now tell us the subtitle of the book.
SFM: The subtitle of Nourishing Traditions is: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.
HG: Because you could already see this impending wave of information, right?
SFM: Or misinformation coming. Actually, we were already in the middle of this wave of misinformation. Mary and I thought, somebody has got to speak out. So that’s what we did. The number one job of the Foundation has been to correct the misinformation about fats and oils.
HG: Tell us more about the principles. Let’s say I’m just getting started and I’m thinking that this appeals to me. Pâté sounds great and you have the science behind why it’s good for you, too, so what would I get do if I wanted to get started on this stuff?
SFM: The first thing we say is, “Get your fats right.” So use butter. Throw away all the margarines and spreads. Use butter and cook in animal fats. Another important thing is to make your own salad dressing. Throw away that bottled dressing which is one of the worst products on the grocers’ shelves. Get those industrial fats and oils out of your diet. Honestly that’s more important than tackling the sugar. That comes next but first get your fats right. Start cooking and using the right fats, make your own salad dressing using real olive oil. That comes first. Then the next thing is get off all the sweeteners—sugars and artificial sweeteners. We’re not saying never eat sweet things. You have a sweet taste in your mouth—it needs to be satisfied but in the right way. We like to say that our diet is not so much telling you what not to eat but how to eat everything. We’re inclusive, not exclusive.
HG: So it’s not about deprivation.
SFM: No, it’s not about deprivation or renunciation. This diet is really a fun diet. It’s delicious and satisfying. You can have fats, you can have butter, you can have sauces, you can have salt, you can have meat, you can have grains, and you can even have sweets in your diet.
HG: Let’s go back to step one about the butter and the oils. When I go to the grocery store I see vegetable oil. Oh, vegetable, it sounds healthy, or I see that it says “heart-healthy” on the bottle. Are you telling me it’s not so much?
SFM: I’m telling you that these oils are poison. And isn’t that interesting, they really should be called industrial seed oils but they pick the word vegetable because what can be wrong with vegetables, right? So they call them “vegetable oils” instead. Right there is a deception. They don’t come from vegetables, they come from seeds that normally don’t give up their oils. A piece of corn or a soybean—you couldn’t get oil out of those seeds. They have to use very high-temperature presses and then hexane to get all the oil out of the seed. It’s a very industrial process and these oils are extremely fragile. When they’re exposed to heat and oxygen, as in processing or cooking, they create free radicals. And this is the bad thing in the diet; it’s not cholesterol, it’s not saturated fat. It’s the free radicals in liquid vegetable oils along with the trans fats in partially hydrogenated oils. These are what cause heart disease. Free radicals damage your arteries, they take energy away from your heart. Yes indeed, they are very much involved in heart disease and cancer. They’re definitely carcinogenic.
HG: We get to move away from those to stuff that tastes better anyway—butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and saturated fat.
SFM: Duck fat, goose fat, lard are wonderful fats too. I even use bacon fat. And for fried food, you need to use tallow, which is a safe and stable fat. The problem is people have been subjected to so much propaganda over the years. Our young people, have gotten this in the schools from when they could first talk practically, so there’s a big hurdle to get over. I’ve had people tell me, “First I had to learn not to feel guilty for eating butter.” And I understand that. It’s like people telling you that if you eat bacon, you’re causing climate change. There’s this fingerwagging all the time.
HG: So we get the butter, we get the better fat. The next thing you said is avoiding sweeteners. What are you talking about here?
SFM: We’re talking about refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup and its cousin agave, which are even worse than sugar—especially in the amounts that we eat them today. Again, we’re not telling you not to eat sweet things. We recommend natural sweeteners in the context of a healthy diet and in limited amounts. Not the huge amounts that people are eating today. People say they can’t do that, they can’t give up their sweeteners or their sugar, but one thing that we find, if they get their fats right they don’t crave the sweeteners as much. I had a wonderful story from a girl with this bad habit. She said, “I was on your diet, I was eating whole food but every time I went to the supermarket I stood in the cookie aisle, and I decided that I would always buy two packages of cookies and then eat them.” One day after being on our diet for a number of months she went to the cookie aisle, she stood there, and she realized she didn’t want those cookies. It was not will power. It was just realizing: I don’t want these. She was able to turn around and walk out of the cookie aisle without exercising any will power.
HG: There is a certain satisfaction with eating this way where there’s no longer a temptation to eat some of the junk we used to eat.
SFM: That’s absolutely true and I found that with myself. I was a terrible sugarholic and I didn’t recover as quickly as my friend. It took me a number of years, but today I look in that cookie aisle and I’m not even tempted to go down it. It almost makes me nauseous to think about that kind of food. I couldn’t put it in my mouth.
HG: Isn’t that interesting. You’ve changed a lot.
SFM: Yes, and it’s not because I’m being strong or having a lot of will power. It’s just that I don’t feel like it. And that’s where we need to be. We can’t live in a way that it’s always an exercise of the will. First of all, it makes you a very grumpy person. And with eating too. Eating is supposed to be pleasurable. Three times a day you sit down to something that you really like, and fortunately our food is very likeable.
HG: Absolutely. I’m thinking about that pâté story you told. When you eat these foods you don’t even need to know all the science behind it. You take a bite of something and you can sense that it’s genuine and good. I used to buy artificial spreads thinking I was doing my children a favor. Oh, this says “low in fat” or whatever, and I didn’t realize how bad it tasted until I switched to butter. Now I’m living the good life and putting it on things knowing it satisfies and it’s just so tasty too that my body says thank you.
SFM: Your body does say thank you. It heaves a sigh of relief. It’s interesting about the pâté. Today I can’t eat that much pâté. I’ll have a couple of spoonfuls and I’m full. I was so depleted before that I just kept eating it. A lot of people tell me that when they give themselves permission to eat the good fats it’s bingeing and splurging for several months because the body is finally getting what it needs. But then the bingeing tapers off and you don’t eat so much.
HG: A minute ago you said that this isn’t really a diet, which sounds amazing to me. It’s not about deprivation and yet there are principles that would be helpful for us to follow. Are these based on Price’s findings?
SFM: Yes, we have eleven basic principles. Some of them are based on Dr. Price’s work, but others we have added based on our own research. For example, grains. Dr. Price described people eating grains but he never talked about how they were prepared. Of course, grains are a big issue today because so many people cannot consume them, especially wheat. And what we show is that traditional cultures always soaked or fermented their grains first. Dr. Price never talked about that. This comes from other research.
HG: Interesting. Can you tell us some of the other principles?
SFM: So one of them is proper preparation of grains. Another interesting principle has to do with cooking. Should we cook? All traditional cultures did cook most of their food especially the plant food. But all traditional cultures also ate at least some of their animal foods raw. So raw meat, raw liver, raw fish, or fermented fish or raw dairy. And one of the reasons that we need this raw animal food is to get vitamin B6 because it’s destroyed by heat. Steak tartare, carpaccio—what delicious ways to get your B6!
HG: My eyes are wide because I don’t eat a lot of raw things although I do drink raw milk. How would you get started on that? Talk to the novice out there. How do you incorporate raw animal products in your diet?
SFM: First of all, consume raw milk if you can get raw milk. We’re big proponents of raw milk. Raw milk is a great source of B6 and we know from animal studies that when you pasteurize raw milk B6 is no longer available. And then my favorite raw meat dish is carpaccio. Order it in the restaurant some time. It’s very thin slices of raw beef usually with a little sauce on it.
HG: Is pâté raw?
SFM: No, pâté is not raw, but steak tartare is raw and sort of tastes like pâté.
HG: This is fascinating, Sally. Tell us more about some of the basic principles based on Price’s findings.
SFM: There were four that Price found. One was that there were no processed foods in these diets. Number two, all the diets contained some animal foods. In some cultures there was little animal food and in some cultures there was a lot of animal food. There were no vegan cultures and really no vegetarian cultures. They ate seafood, meat, dairy—even insects, which is a very important food. In fact, for some people that’s their only animal food, they prized the insects. That’s a very important principle, and this is why we make a point that we think veganism is very dangerous. We’re not afraid to say this because a lot of people get sucked into this argument that they’ll be healthier or more spiritual if they’re vegan. No, it’s just not true. All traditional cultures, and some very spiritual traditional cultures, ate animal foods. And then the last principle of Dr. Price was that they made preparations for pregnancy by special foods for both the father and the mother for about six months before pregnancy to build up their nutritional stores before conception. So typically it would be the six months before marriage where they would consume these special foods. For example, the American Indians considered bear fat important for fertility. Fish eggs were another fertility food; liver was another. While they were pregnant they continued with these foods, they continued them through lactation and then gave them to the child while he or she was growing. This ensured good nutrition for every member of the tribe or village. Another important practice was child spacing. The mothers put three years between each child. They didn’t get pregnant for at least two years after they had had the child. This allows the mother to recover her nutritional stores and not get exhausted with each child. And of course that fourth principle is the one we talked about earlier, the principle of nutrient density, especially high levels of vitamins A, D, and K. Those are the four principles discovered by Dr. Price. We’ve added others to these four, for example the proper preparation of grains and some raw animal food in the diet. As for lacto-fermented foods—they’re in every traditional diet all over the globe.
HG: Can you give some examples?
SFM: Sauerkraut is one. I learned recently that there are more good bacteria for our guts in one spoonful of sauerkraut than in a whole bottle of probiotic pills. I had a woman come up to me recently who said that she had suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for twenty years. She had tried everything short of surgery and suffered tremendously from this. Three weeks on real sauerkraut and she had no more problems. It was cured. You’re not supposed to say “cured,” but she was cured. So all traditional cultures had fermented foods and this practice has been completely validated by the science. We now know that we need to feed and nourish the good bacteria in our guts.
HG: What other principles have you included?
SFM: Another principle is the use of bone broth. Now, this is not universal but it’s almost universal. We find this in traditional cultures all over the world. Broth is basically melted collagen. It’s the other main type of protein in our bodies. We have muscle protein and collagen protein. In fact we have more collagen protein than muscle protein. Collagen is what holds us together, keeps our organs working, gives us nice skin and gut integrity. Broth feeds that collagen in our bodies and it has many other uses. We like broth in the beautiful gourmet reduction sauces or in soups or stews. We have taught people and encouraged people to use broth a lot in their diets.
HG: I think if people look at their ancestry they’ll remember either their grandmother or know of people who have made soup when people are sick, or just consumed soup regularly. So I don’t think this is too foreign of a concept.
SFM: No. And of course the broth is made from bones. That’s the key point. Bones with a lot of cartilage in them that melts into the water and that’s what feeds our own collagen and cartilage.
Another principle is salt. All traditional cultures had salt and went through a lot of trouble to get the salt. We do need salt, it’s a very important part of our diet.
HG: I hear a lot of people say, “Gotta watch my salt.” Is that some of the misinformation?
SFM: It is. We actually eat less salt, about half as much salt as we did in 1900 because in those days we used salt for salting fish and meat to preserve it. Our requirement for sodium is one and a half teaspoons of salt per day. And that’s about what Americans are eating today. One of the good things about the modern diet is that salt is readily available and cheap.
HG: Why have we been told that it’s not good?
SFM: It’s complicated. I think some people are just so tied to their idea. This push for low salt is coming from just a few scientists. They all support each other and reference each other. But we really do need salt and more is better than less. I’m particularly concerned about withholding salt from children because you need salt to form glial cells in your brain. These are the cells that make you capable of higher thinking, of creative thinking. Pregnant women should be eating salt. They should be getting a lot of salt while they’re nursing. We need to put salt in baby food. Babies need salt. I’m very concerned about these baby books that say don’t give salt to babies.
HG: What about vegetables, Sally? What role do they play in the diet?
SFM: That’s an interesting question because some cultures had no vegetables. The Swiss, Irish, and Eskimo cultures that Dr. Price studied had no or very few plant foods in their diets and they were perfectly healthy. Vegetables are not a requirement, but of course they’re fun to have in the diet. And I like to say that vegetables are the perfect vehicle for butter. I’m very concerned about people eating a lot of raw vegetables that shouldn’t be eaten raw. Of course the favorite today is kale. People are eating kale chips or they’re using raw kale in salads or juices. Kale is full of oxalic acid, it’s full of goitrogens. I just got a letter the other day from someone who grew up eating lots of kale, and she now has a thyroid problem. It can really cause thyroid problems. Yes, people had kale in their diets but they cooked it. They cooked it a long time and they cooked it with fat. Think of the southern greens.
Again, that’s a tradition that we need to respect when we eat these various foods. The whole problem is we’ve taken these foods out of their context. We’re eating kale raw; traditional cultures would never eat kale raw, it doesn’t taste good raw anyway. They are pasteurizing the milk when traditional cultures never did that. They drank milk raw straight from the cow. Soy in traditional cultures is fermented for a long, long time and only eaten in small amounts. We are processing soy in a completely different way and eating it in large amounts. We need to respect these traditions—they’re very wise. We may not understand them but if we look long enough, we’ll come to find the reason that people prepared their foods in a certain way.
HG: This is fantastic. I’m so glad we’re going to do future podcasts on each of these principles—the ones Price discovered and the ones the Foundation has added—to learn more about how to incorporate these foods into our diet to live a full life. Are there any comments in closing that you want to share with our listeners?
SFM: I just would like to stress again, Hilda, that this diet that we talk about and teach people about is not hard. It’s delicious, it’s satisfying, it’s nourishing. I want to say it nourishes your body and soul. It’s a diet that we can live with for a long, long time, for generation after generation. There’s nothing faddish about this diet. It is the way that people have always eaten and that’s the way we need to eat into the future—if we’re going to have a future.
HG: I hope we will. Thank you, Sally, and I appreciate your time today.
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This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2016